Cell phones have become an integral part of our everyday lives. Over the years, cell phones have transformed from devices that could only be used to make or receive calls to devices that are, more or less, personal computers. We not only use these devices to communicate; we surf the web, do online banking, shop, order food, scroll social media and obtain driving directions, only to name a few. Cell phones can do many helpful things for us, but do not forget about the harms caused by the use of cell phones at inappropriate times, particularly while driving.
Wisconsin Statute 346.89, entitled “Inattentive Driving,” outlines the law in Wisconsin as it relates to texting while driving. Wis. Stat. 346.89 states, in pertinent part: “No person may drive, [. . .], any motor vehicle while composing or sending an electronic text message or an electronic mail message.” Wis. Stat. 346.89(3)(b)(4) provides an exception for “[t]he use of a voice-operated or hands-free device if the driver of the motor vehicle does not use his or her hands to operate the device, except to activate or deactivate a feature or function of the device.” In other words, a driver is not permitted to send a text message while driving unless he or she does so through the use of a hands-free “talk to text” type feature.
Texting while driving is the number one cause of distracted driving, but many other activities can cause a driver to be distracted as well. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, there were 24,089 motor vehicle crashes in 2015 due to distracted driving, which equates to a distracted driving crash occurring approximately once every 22 minutes.
Not only is texting and driving dangerous, but an offender could also get a citation and demerit points assessed on their driving record. Fines range from $20 for a first offense up to $400 for repeat offenses. (Wis. Stat. 346.95(2)). If someone is actually injured or killed due to texting and driving, the fines and penalties can be much worse.
In July of 2012, PaKou Xiong was driving home from work around midnight and simultaneously texting her friend about a wedding when she struck and killed Jim Weiss, a bicyclist, as he rode his bike in Kimberly, Wisconsin. An accident reconstruction revealed that Xiong did not attempt to brake before striking the bicyclist. The criminal complaint stated that Weiss had several reflectors affixed to his bike. This should have made the bike visible had the driver been paying attention. Xiong was sentenced to one year in jail followed by five years of probation and 100 hours of community service.
According to a Target 2 article out of Green Bay, Xiong is quoted saying: “You just have to put that phone down and think for a little while and say ‘is it worth it? Is it worth putting other people’s lives at risk or your own life at risk?’”
To ensure safety on Wisconsin roadways while in the presence of electronic devices that ever so easily grab our attention, it is important to keep a few things in mind so that we do not become part of a new distracted driving statistic.
1. Set Your Phone to Send an Auto Response While Driving
Advances in technology allow us to program our electronic devices in virtually any way we can imagine. You can now program a smartphone to send an auto-response to any text messages that are received by your phone while you are driving. Anyone who sends you a text message while your Do Not Disturb setting is turned on will receive a message saying something like, “I’m driving with Do Not Disturb While Driving turned on. I’ll see your message when I get where I’m going. If this is urgent please call me instead.” This ensures that the people who are trying to reach you get a notification that you are driving and you do not get disturbed so that you can focus on what is most important – getting to your destination safely!
2. Turn Your Phone on Silent
For many people, hearing their phone ring or buzz and not being able to look at it is nearly impossible. When they hear that they received a message or other notification, it eats away at them until they know what it is or who it is from. This is why it is a good habit to put your phone on silent while driving. You will not be disturbed when a message comes through nor will you be anxious to grab for your phone. Put the cell phone on silent, and tuck it away in a purse or a bag so that it is not a distraction while you are on the road.
3. Pull Over If You Need to Check or Send a Message
If you truly cannot wait until you get safely to your destination to read or send a text message, pull over once it is safe to do so and go about your business. Do not put others’ lives at risk to read or send a simple message. While pulling over may take a few extra minutes, you could be saving your life and the lives of others by not texting and driving.
4. Make a Commitment to Never Text and Drive
Make the commitment to never text and drive again. Do not be part of another texting and driving statistic in Wisconsin. Do your part to make Wisconsin roadways safer, and do not text and drive!
If you or someone you know has been injured in a crash because of someone who was texting and driving, our firm may be able to help. The Groth Law Firm has many years of experience handling cases that involve distracted driving, and the team remains committed to providing the best possible representation to its clients who are injured through the carelessness of others. Our attorneys offer free consultations and are available seven days per week. Don’t wait – call the Groth Law Firm today at (414) 375-2030.